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5ive Good Minutes with Metal Mafia’s Vanessa Merit Nornberg

January 6, 2012


5ive Good Minutes is a new segment on Jobtrakr where we feature industry leaders or newsworthy individuals. If you or someone you know would like to be featured in the future, please contact us

Last week, Vanessa penned a piece on Inc.com about how to change tomorrow’s workforce.  The American worker isn’t just a cog in a machine. Every worker is vital to the success of this country.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Vanessa to discuss her article, how she made it to be an Inc. 500 company and continue the conversation about the future of the workforce as we know it.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to read the article on Inc.com, we’ve linked it to it here.  It’s a very informative and insightful read.

MO: First and foremost thank you for taking the time to chat with us regarding your recent article in Inc.  Please give our readers a quick introduction to Metal Mafia.

VMN: Metal Mafia is a wholesale body and costume jewelry supplier serving 5000+ boutiques in 23 different countries.  Founded in 2004,  Metal Mafia has built its reputation on its stellar customer service,  its unique designs,  and its quick turn around time.

We started the company because we thought that customers deserved great service, a great quality/price rapport,  and imaginative pieces that would differentiate them from their competitors. All our designs are done in-house,  and we have wild ideas when it comes to jewelry.

This year we created taper earrings that could be converted to smokeable pipes, tunnels with working ball-bearings,  and industrial barbells with moveable designs in the middle to better allow the customer to adjust the piece to his ear, among other things.

MO: We were really impressed with the article that you did on Inc.  You made a lot of great points in terms of ways to change tomorrow’s workforce which I believe is a topic that is being ignored.  For our readers that didn’t get a chance to read the article, can you some up some of the finer points and also let us know why you are so passionate about this particular subject?

VMN:  In the recent article on Inc.com, I wrote about my involvement as a Business Advisor with an organization called Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). NFTE works with high schools to create programs for teaching entrepreneurship and basic business principles to students in low-income districts.

I believe that we have a huge education problem in America right now.  Students are not being taught skills that will help them join the work force successfully,  and many of the traditional methods of class mobility, like higher education are being closed to the lower and middle classes because the price tag is too high.  Entrepreneurship can level the playing field.

If you have a good idea,  and you can get it to market, you can be successful.  The NFTE program helps students to make their ideas realities by teaching them all the steps of running a business. The students I have worked with have learned at a very impressive speed all the important aspects of launching a product—from design to manufacturing to marketing and beyond.

What I have seen from students in the program is amazing.  They have interesting ideas for their businesses, are willing to put in long hours of hard work,  and really appreciate the opportunity to meet and get information from local business people. Building their businesses, learning to network, and even facing setbacks helps the students to build character, to hone vital business skills, and to see that there is more than one path to where they want to be.

All young people should have the opportunity to learn these lessons,  because in the process, they learn that they are in charge of their destiny.  Business owners should also want to get involved,  because it allows them to help teach the future workforce the skills they as business owners deem essential.

MO: Well said. With that in mind, where do you see the workforce in the next 3-5 years?

VMN: I think that the people joining the workforce in the next 3-5 years are going to have to be able to control technology—and how they use it.  Being able to email, text, tweet, etc,  is important, but it is even more important to know when to use each type of technology.

For example, I have had people work at my company who thought it was appropriate to quit in an email.  Leaving a company deserves a conversation! There are also many people who believe that it is okay to use social media while at work.

This comes from the fact that companies have allowed themselves to become borderless,  and employees have accepted this change.  The line between work and personal time has been blurred. The unspoken downside is that employees are then expected to be on call, 24 hours a day for the companies they serve.

I think the most productive workers–and the most desirable hires will not be the multi-taskers who claim they can do everything simultaneously,  but people who can focus on a project and guide it successfully to completion, while not becoming so engrossed they forget the rest of their responsibilities.

MO: Let’s change gears a little bit and talk about Metal Mafia.  In 2009, MM was an Inc. 500 company which is a huge accomplishment.  What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned since then, and what are some lessons that you can pass on to business owners/start-ups that aspire to be on that list?

VMN:  Metal Mafia made it onto the Inc 500 list in 2009 because we identified a specific need in the market and worked hard to fill it. From the very start,  we had a specific way we wanted to serve customers—putting their needs first—and we never strayed from that.

We have never tried to be like our competition, nor have we changed our strategy to compete with any other company—even when things have gotten difficult.  We follow our mission, and we have been rewarded by fierce customer loyalty for doing so.

MO: What is the best piece of business advice that you have ever received?

VMN: The best business advice I ever received is from my dad.  He always told me when I was little that he spent his money with companies that earned it.  If someone was not knowledgeable about their product,  failed to deliver on their word, or made him feel that his business was not valued,  he went elsewhere—even if it cost more.

We try every day to do things that make our customer’s lives easier and better.   Customers have a choice where they buy.  I never forget that and neither does anyone who works at my company.

MO: We thank you for making the time for us today.  As the economy continues to recover, it’ll be interesting to see how the workforce adapts.  Education will continue to play a vital role in its success.

Other countries are lapping us in education and yet we still continue to cut funding for education at every opportunity that we get.  Thank goodness for programs like the Khan Academy  I’m still bullish on America, but in order for the workforce to improve, investments in education need to be made.

Vanessa Merit Nornberg

In 2004, Vanessa opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009. Fluent in Spanish and French (as well as English), Vanessa has also worked abroad in communications and business development in the video game and jewelry industries.

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About Maro Onokpise

Maro Onokpise is the founder and Editor of Jobtrakr. He oversees all editorial content. Prior to turning his sights on the job industry, Maro was an Associate Manager for Banana Republic where he was responsible for Operations, HR and Recruiting. In 2010 Maro was featured on the cover of Career Magazine and was also named to Orlando Business Journal's 40 Under 40. Maro Onokpise is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

View all posts by Maro Onokpise


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